GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - Eight young men and women in the Gulfport Police Explorers program are coming back home from competition with multiple awards and accolades.
The Explorers traveled to Gatlinburg this weekend for the Winterfest Law Enforcement Explorers Competition. Months of training paid off for the kids. This year, they went up against 103 groups of law enforcement explorers like them for a total of 3,500 youth competing.
Gulfport's Explorers placed first in the "interview and interrogation" category and fourth in the "physical fitness" challenge. They also placed in the top ten in four other events.
It was Chayce Lundy's second trip to Winterfest. He recalls his first time at the big event.
"It was a really great experience," said Lundy. "It taught me a lot and it was a blast, all the scenarios we did. It trained us a lot more. We gained a lot more knowledge in scenarios and how policing is."
Lundy has known what he wants to do for a living for quite some time.
"I felt the calling, you know?" said Lundy. "I want to be a police officer. My neighbor who's a dispatch, she's a retired dispatcher. She told me, 'You know there's a police explorer program.' and I was like, 'What's that?' She told me they're basically like junior police officers, they train and do competitions and all that. I was like, Sign me up right now!"
For Donald Knox, this was his last year in the Explorer's program, as he has reached the maximum age. He feels like the six years he's spent in the program has made a difference in his life.
"This whole experience has taught me a lot," Knox said. "It's really taught me how to be a leader, how to not be a follower. How to show people the right way. It really put me on the right path of where I want to be."
That's exactly what Post Advisor Officer Raymond Brooks believes each of the kids gains from the program.
"Out of this they learn basic responsibility, being responsible for themselves," said Brooks. "They learn teamwork. They learn the in and outs of the fine points of law enforcement while they're here."
The group took some time Wednesday to meet with Police Chief Leonard Papania, Mayor Billy Hewes, and some city councilmen before heading out to Gatlinburg.
Chief Papania says each of these young people is a true treasure for the city of Gulfport.